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David Berman – Goodnight may your God go with you


Of course, following the sad news of David Berman’s untimely demise recently we thought it fitting to play Silver Jews. David Berman was a wonderful man and his music reflects this. More on David Berman later on, because we have much more besides. SALES bookend the show with flavours of Joy Division and Suzanne Vega. There is some promise as we expect a Chinese takeaway delivery only to be reminded it’s New Year and no such delicious meal is in sight.

We discover that making music purely for your own enjoyment is a thing. Sir Woman was doing just this, much like Keaton Henson whom has graced the show previously. But Sir Woman isn’t the only one and we have more secretive music makers being showcased on the show in coming weeks.

Over nineties music making sensation Barbara Dane sings of the binds of conjugal felicity in her wonderful Single Girl. You think you know about protest singers? Woody, Bob and Pete? Be prepared to relearn what you think you know as Barbara Dane towers above them all.

Is there anything else?

There sure is. Flogging Molly mix never ending Irish reels with rock and roll and send us heading for the dance floor. And finally, before the close of the show we introduce you to The Local Honeys. Straight out of Kentucky these two ladies are the real deal. Banjo player Montana Hobbs and guitarist Linda Jean Stokley manage to blend bluegrass foot stompers with sweet Appalachian mountain harmonies. Able to drive hard fiddle based tunes, sing the high lonesome sound and tell a damn good story these girls are destined for great things. You can even hire them out for your own events via their website!

  1. Chinese New Year SALES
  2. Random Rules Silver Jews
  3. Making Love Sir Woman
  4. Single Girl Barbara Dane
  5. Devil’s Dance Floor Flogging Molly
  6. The Junkman The Local Honeys
  7. Renee SALES

David Berman – the legacy of beautiful music remains

The first time I met David Berman was at a backyard party at Grimey’s Records in Nashville. One of the fun ideas Grimey’s cooked up that day was to have a “Meet and Greet The Nashville Indie Rockers” table, and at this table was David Berman, Kurt from Lambchop, and me. I found David Berman funny, avuncular, and sweet. Not many people came up to talk to us – most of the people at the party already knew us, and we probably all felt a little silly and embarrassed sitting there.

It felt a little like that scene in Spinal Tap when no one shows up for the autograph signing at the record store. Kurt killed time by drawing ‘blind caricatures’ of us by placing a blindfold on his face and drawing our portraits from memory. I still have mine. David had with him two old Silver Jews 7” singles he was trying to sell. A young woman eventually came up and asked about them.

“They’re $3 each,” David told her.
“I only have $5,” said the girl.
“That’s OK, take them,” said David, handing her the records. “I’m not here today to make money. I’m here to make friends.”

2008 low point

In 2008 I was at a very low point in my life. I was in the midst of what is often euphemistically known as a “messy divorce” and was about to be dropped from my label. Also being informed, while on tour, that the record store I managed back home was to close, leaving me unemployed. I had been abandoned by both my band and my then-wife in the middle of a grueling five-week tour across the US. The final two weeks of this tour were dates opening for Silver Jews. By this point on the tour I was traveling alone. I was already friends with guitarist William Tyler and bassist Cassie Berman. The latter of whom played bass in a short-lived band I was in at the time called HP Witchcraft. I didn’t really know the rest of the band very well.

Word spreads quickly in our small circle of indie rockers. By the time I met up with the Silver Jews crew in New Orleans, everyone had already heard about my recent run of hard luck. The entire band and crew made me feel very welcome at a time when I really needed it. It felt good to be among friends. They were sympathetic but not pitying or meddlesome.Each of them made an effort, despite their demanding schedules, to hang out with me and make sure I was OK. A few of them even offered to travel with me and keep me company on the road. David Berman in particular was a good friend to me during this time despite people constantly seeking his attention and tugging on his sleeve.

David Berman to the rescue

On the last night of the tour, at the Echoplex in LA, I was asked to join the band onstage for the last song of their set, “Punks in the Beerlight.” Cassie and guitarist Peyton Pinkerton quickly ran through the chords of the song with me backstage. Cassie told me she’d cue me when it was time to join the band onstage.

David Berman was blind as a bat. He also didn’t like to wear his glasses onstage. When it came time for me to accompany the band on “Punks In The Beerlight,” David saw me approach, but didn’t recognize me at first, only seeing the shape and shadow of a big guy hopping up onstage and fiddling with an amplifier.

Oh, well, I guess they’re pulling the plug on us, sorry. The crowd booed.

David Berman

Myopic misunderstanding

In his blindness, David, having momentarily forgot about the plan for me to sit in with the band. He thought I was a security guard cutting the power and coming to tell him the show was past curfew and they had to stop.

“No, David, that’s James!” explained Cassie.

Everyone laughed. It was a memorable moment and I still smile when I think about it.

The last time I spoke to David he suggested I call my new band “Orangutan Menopause.” Then he apologized for not being more present during the tour years earlier when he knew I was going through so much gnarly shit. I told him truthfully that I never felt that he was anything but present. Those last shows of the tour with Silver Jews might have saved my life. At the very least, if he and his band hadn’t been as generous, sweet, and hospitable to me as they were, I almost definitely would have bailed on the remainder of the tour and God only knows what else.

David is still there for me, as he is for so many of you, when I listen to his songs. Though it will be a while before I am able to listen to them again, I expect that they will remain just as beautiful as before, if a lot sadder. To the max.

Written by James Jackson Toth and published on Aquarium Drunkard

Further reading – The David Berman interview

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